Wednesday, December 19, 2018

2018 International Beginning Reader Roundup

Today's guest contributor is Patrick Gall. Patrick works as a librarian for children in preschool through eighth grade at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago. He served on the 2015 Newbery Award Committee, is currently serving on the USBBY Outstanding International Books List committee, and is a guest reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine.

Much like the selections found on last year’s international beginning reader roundup, this year’s books are quite varied narratively, visually, and geographically. And although published and made available within the United States, they don’t qualify for the Geisel Award since “books originally published in other countries are not eligible.” To find several more international beginning readers from the last 12 years, plus other excellent international books through 12th grade, check out the USBBY Outstanding International 

The following collection of books is not intended to serve as a comprehensive list of every international beginning reader published in the United States in 2018. Instead, I consider these titles to be inherently valuable and worth highlighting because they contain unique perspectives, interesting structures, and introduce an American audience to extraordinary international creators.

While gathering, organizing, and narrowing down this list of titles a clear “pairings” theme emerged (in that several international authors published two or more excellent beginning readers in 2018 that paired well together). Some of these books are within a series, while others just complement each other stylistically (as is the case for two board books by different creators through the same publisher). Additionally, a couple titles are “sequel-ish” follow-ups to books published over the past couple years.

The following titles are roughly organized by intended audience (youngest to oldest) and include their country of origin after each publisher: 

Mirror Play: What Am I? by Monte Shin, illus. by the author (Minedition/Korea)
Peek-a-Who? by Elsa Mroziewicz, illus. by the author (Minedition/French) 
In Shin’s Mirror Play, readers are challenged to reveal the identities of 12 oddly shaped paper cutouts by rotating each figure along the edge of a mirrored page to “visually complete” each form. Mroziewicz’s Peek-a-Who? asks young readers to identify a series of animals by their characteristic sounds prior to revealing each animal’s identity by opening triangular board book flaps. These effectively designed board books offer both an innovative and supportive reading experience, thanks to their repetitive question/answer structures and thoughtful visual clues. 

niwîcihâw / I Help by Caitlin Dale Nicholson, illus. by author (Groundwood/Canada) 
This follow-up to last year’s excellent nipêhon / I Wait has all of the same qualities that made its predecessor so fantastic – dual Cree/English text, large vertical format, and expressive acrylic illustrations. This loving autumnal story follows a young Cree child and his grandmother as they collect rosehips for tea. A quickly predictable back-and-forth pattern (“Kôhkom listens.” / “I listen.” / “Kôhkom helps.” / “I help.”) drives most of the story; however, a simple, yet clever, twist at the end provides a gently humorous conclusion. 

The Crocodile and the Dentist by Taro Gomi, illus. by author (Chronicle/Japan) 
I Really Want to See You, Grandma by Taro Gomi, illus. by author (Chronicle/Japan) 
The Crocodile and the Dentist and I Really Want to See You, Grandma are exemplary picture books in that their words and illustrations work so beautifully together that each title’s whole far exceeds the sum of its parts. Ingeniously repetitive texts, a purposeful employment of gutters, and two fantastically ridiculous plots (the mutual fear between a human dentist and his crocodile patient and a hilarious series of missed connections between a grandmother and grandchild) result in two undeniable “page-turners.” 

Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market by Chitra Kanika, illus. by Kanika Nair (Karadi Tales/India) 
Farmer Falgu Goes to the Kumbh Mela by Chitra Kanika, illus. by Kanika Nair (Karadi Tales/India) 
Readers in the USA were lucky to gain two new installments of the unwaveringly optimistic Farmer Falgu in 2018. In Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market a series of mishaps (from potholes to greedy goats) nearly ruin the farmer’s foodstuffs, while Farmer Falgu Goes to the Kumbh Mela documents an ill-fated trip to a Hindu festival. In both cases Farmer Falgu comes out on top, thanks to his ingenuity and kindness. In particular, Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market functions effectively as a beginning reader thanks to its cyclical structure and large, color-coded text. 

Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna, illus. by author (Flying Eye/Great Britain) 
Perhaps the most conceptually complex title on this list, this follow-up to Sanna’s The Journey (2016) is a sequel of sorts in that it focuses on the experience of a child relocated to a new country. In Me and My Fear, a young girl’s “Fear” is physically represented by a ghost-like figure that visually expresses her simply stated feelings of isolation and unease (such as a room-sized Fear blocking the door when the girl attempts to leave her home, “…but Fear won’t move.”). Sanna’s ability to depict childhood anxiety in a manner that is creative, understandable, and respectful to beginning readers is an unparalleled achievement. 

Additionally, the following titles, although standalones, each deserve an honorable mention: 

  • The Visitor by Antje Damm, illus. by author (Gecko Press/Germany) 
  • Smon Smon by Sonja Danowski, illus. by author (North South/Switzerland) 
  • Bim Bam Boom by Frédéric Stehr, illus. by author (Gecko Press/France) 

As was the case last year, I have certainly left many excellent international beginning readers off of this list. Please share your 2018 international beginning reader recommendations and thoughts in the comments!

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